FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – One inconspicuous sentence in the 14th paragraph of a Major League Soccer press release back on June 10, when the league announced the MLS is Back Tournament, loomed for two months like a vague beacon on the horizon.
Upon completion of the MLS is Back Tournament, MLS plans to continue its regular season with a revised schedule in home markets, followed by the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and the 25th MLS Cup.
Finally, after weeks of speculation, that plan was revealed this past weekend as details of the regular season were unveiled. Each team will play 18 more regular-season matches – combining with the two games prior to the league’s suspension in mid-March and the three group games from MLS is Back to fill out a 23-game schedule – culminating with Decision Day on November 8.
For the New England Revolution it all kicks off next Friday night, August 21, when they’ll host the Philadelphia Union at Gillette Stadium (8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Boston, 98.5 The Sports Hub), marking their return to Foxborough more than five months after their home opener on March 7.
“It’s going to be great being back home,” said Teal Bunbury. “It’s going to be a little weird, because usually we don’t have that long in between playing at home, so it’s going to be exciting for the guys. I know we’re looking forward to it.”
“Really looking forward to it,” echoed Michael Mancienne. “It’s been such a long wait and such a massive break. Obviously unforeseen circumstances happened and no one could’ve seen that coming. But it’s good. Everyone’s been working really hard, and we’re all excited and looking forward to playing.”
There will, of course, be challenges to tackle in the coming months. Players and staff will need to take every precaution to keep themselves safe by following the protocols set in place by the league and club. Games will come thick and fast as the Revs are slated to play 18 games in 80 days (an average of one game every 4.44 days), meaning rest, recovery, and depth will be crucial. Travel will also be a unique test, as the vast majority of road trips will be regional and clubs will often travel in and out of road cities on the same day to avoid hotel stays.
But those are all challenges the players are more than eager to overcome for the opportunity to play the game they love, and the chance to get back to playing regular-season games on a consistent basis.
“I don’t know how it’s going to go the first time (we travel day of game), but I think we’re going to be ready. We’re looking forward to it,” said Bunbury. “It’s games. We can’t really complain. This is our job. We go out there and we get to kick a ball and enjoy ourselves, so if we have a little bit of inconvenience of maybe traveling on day of game, I think we’re going to be okay with that knowing we can get out there and do what we love.”
Regardless of the circumstances, expectations remain the same for the Revolution. Six points from their first five games (1-1-3) have the Revs firmly entrenched in the thick of the Eastern Conference, and they’ll be looking to continue climbing the table in the coming weeks as they take aim at a second straight playoff berth in the midst of this most unusual of seasons.
“We have many expectations and high expectations,” Gustavo Bou said through a translator. “We’re excited to restart the league. I’m happy that we’re starting to play for points again. We start with a game here at home. We have to continue doing the right things. The objective is clear – it’s to make the playoffs and pick up where we left off last season.”